Sunday 17th May 2015, Easter 7

by Revd Chris Palmer

Quite often when I sit down to pray, I find myself afflicted with intrusive thoughts. I start worrying about undone tasks, plotting how I’m going to respond to that person waiting for an answer, ruminating on issues with family, or being anxious about – well just about anything. These thoughts take me away from God if I’m not careful. In my worst moments I try to kid myself that mulling on these things is really a kind of praying about them – but that’s self-deception: I’m clinging to the issues, rather than handing them over to God. And sometimes it’s too much and I just abandon myself to the grind of my inner destructive dialogue. Being absorbed by our problem thinking, our resentments, our petty plans for revenge or self-promotion is addictive. And having the courage to lay these aside, very gently and without self-reproach, and choose awareness of God, to choose to be available to God, to choose openness to God, leads us into truer life.

But for me this is a metaphor not just for prayer, but for all life decisions.  How we use our time, our money, our skills; what job we do, house we buy, car we drive; where we apply for our children to go to school, what activities we want them to do outside school; how we save for retirement, or for end of life care; what relationships we commit to, how we act if relationships end and so on.

In each of these we have the choice to be absorbed by an inner dialogue of resentment, entitlement, and fear – or to choose generosity, hope, and acceptance. And if the latter seems really hard to achieve, I have discovered over the years, that just a little bit of letting go, putting myself into God’s care, is usually met with an abundance of his grace and love and support.

Today we’re launching our giving appeal for 2015.  And the choice that we each have in choosing what to give to and through the church, is like a spotlight on our whole attitude to letting go and letting God.  As we learn to give up our addictive thinking, our inner script of fear and clinging to issues that assail us, then we will find that we want to give, and give generously, openly, hopefully. As we trust ourselves into God’s hands, we will discover that what we give us not lost to us, but receive it back in the community of faith, through fellowship, through worship, through serving, through seeing other people flourish.

Because that is what our giving is about. Our church here at Holy Trinity is a place of flourishing. Here we offer worship and praise to God, here children learn about faith, here the elderly are welcome to coffee and chat, here the homeless find shelter in the winter; from here we are sent to live God’s love in homes and workplaces across London; from here members of our congregation are inspired to volunteer in charities and schools. Our tithe giving supports projects in South Africa, Bulgaria, Malawi, as well as our local community. Our giving to the diocese ensure there are clergy in our own parish, and we give some to make sure churches have priests in poorer parts of South London.

Giving pays the bills. And giving expresses our love for God.

Last year in 2014 we didn’t hold a giving renewal campaign – that is we didn’t ask for increases in regular giving. Instead we held a gift day – to close the gap in our deficit for 2014. It worked!  Alleluia! I was delighted. We finished the year with a small surplus on the general fund. But it was a 2014 fix.  If we are to balance the books year, we need to transform that additional one off giving into regular giving.  The task is not small, as we need to raise congregational giving by £25K each year to close the deficit. That’s getting on for a 30% increase.

Some statistics: There are 125 people/couples in the giving scheme.  That’s great.  It represents a large proportion of our regular congregation. If you are one of those – thank you. At present the amount promised by these 125 amounts to £84,600 per year – which is 5% higher than a year ago – even without us holding a regular giving campaign. But we are looking for that £84K to be £110K instead.  That’s not an impossible target. Our fairer shares survey last year revealed that our congregation can afford that – indeed we proved that we could afford it with our gift day.

If you are part of the giving scheme, will you consider a bigger increase in your giving. What are you giving as a proportion of your income? Are you meeting the CofE’s recommended 5% giving? Could you get closer to it? If you’re outgoing have reduced could you afford a little bit more to help those who can’t.

And then our second challenge is to increase that 125 by bringing new people into the giving scheme.  These yellow envelopes are well used; I’m sure the collection counters can testify to this. And for visitors they are excellent. But if you regard yourself as a member of Holy Trinity, please join the giving scheme instead. If we know what to expect from your giving, it helps us to plan so much more effectively.

The choice to give is a choice for hope, for life, for joy.  The choice to give regularly, with stated intentions, is a choice for community, for relationship, for sustainable living. The difference between giving now and again when you think about it, and joining the giving scheme, is the difference between having a series of one-night-stands and committing to a relationship.

Giving expresses our relationship with God. But giving can also be a lever to deepen our relationship with God. In the envelope you will receive after the service, there is a leaflet and on that leaflet is a description of how to pray about this.  It’s a way of prayer designed to draw us away from the obsessive, ruminating way of thinking into a taking responsibility and letting go way of being. I adapted it from a suggestion for making many life-decisions, so it’ll work for lots of things. But use it, I encourage you, in considering what you will give – and allow God through the process to change you, to open you, to free you from fear and compulsion. And if it leads you into wanting to talk with me or Kate, or someone else, about faith, about commitment, about what it means to follow Jesus, please come and ask – we’d love to talk about this more than anything.